Friday, December 27, 2013

Saving Money When You've Already Cut Your Spending

Ok, so we've all been here, you've cut your spending, but you still want to save money.  So what do you do next?  Reevaluate.  I do this twice a year (every 6 months).  I sit down, take a look at my last  6 months worth of spending, bills, interest rates, and contracts.  I also take time to scout out free events and classes for my family.  Here are some more tips on what you can do to save your family money:

Have you negotiated your phone and cable bills?  Are you still not please with what you saved?  Try comparing similar packages from different companies.  Maybe you can cut back on features that you don't need.  Sometimes when you bring up to your current providers, they'll reward your loyalty in an attempt to keep you.

Consider refinancing your car or your home.  You could save money just by getting a lower interest rate.  Speaking on interest rates, check your rates for any loans or credit cards you might have, then see if you can renegotiate them to lower rates.

If your credit card offers rewards or cash back, utilize it!  However, make sure the benefits will outweigh any interest rates or fees from your card company.

Double check your services.  You don't want to pay for things you don't use.  You'd be surprised how many features your phone and cable bill could have, that you weren't even aware of.  If possible, cut these features.

For free movies, books, resources, and classes, we head to our library.  At least once a week they have some sort of kid's class or event at the library (including movie nights, story time, crafts, etc.).  We also like to check out Lowe's and Home Depot for their free kid's club Home Depot even offers free classes for adults!).  (Bass Pro has lots of free events around holidays!).  Just because it is free, doesn't mean the fun will be spared.

Food tends to be a huge expense for most families.  We have joined a produce co-op to supply our family with 2 weeks of fresh produce for only $23!  The produce is local, and well worth every penny.  For meat purchases, I but in bulk.  When there is a deal on meat that bis too good to pass up, I stock up for the next few months.  Around Thanksgiving I bought 3 turkeys (which for my family of 4, will give us 9-10 meals).  Same with ham around Christmas and Easter.  We also enjoy meatless dishes 3 days of the week to cut back on spending.  Like most people, I enjoy convenient foods, something that is easy to get on the table.  However, I have found not only is it cheaper to make my own breads, cookies, muffins, and pasta, but it's not really all that hard (just check out Pinterest if you don't believe me!).

Do you have a college savings account for your kids, or do you have student loans yourself?  Sign up for Upromise and link your accounts.  Your online spending will earn you cash back for these accounts.  Pay your loans and save for college while you shop, pretty simple if you ask me!

One weekend a year, Sam's Club has an open house.  That means you can get in for free and take advantage of the great prices!  Pay attention to the unit rices, while most of the time it's cheaper to buy in bulk, sometimes you'll find the deals aren't as great, so skip these items.

Sign up for reward programs.  Almost every store has some sort of reward program now; Walgreens, Kmart, Sears, CVS, Payless, Kohls........theses stores and more reward you for shopping with them.  Most of the time you can turn your points into cash to spend at these stores, getting free product!  Not to mention all of the great coupons they'll send you!  Also, make sure to check out my list of reward sites to earn free gift cards. yourself first!  Before you spend any money, put an extra $10, $20, or $50 into savings.  Adding extra cushion, no matter how small, will help you in case of an emergency.

It might seem like I'm telling you to stop spending, cut everything fun from your life, and live under a rock, but with a few simple moves, and smarter spending plans, you and your family will be able to do more!  Are you up to the challenge?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Homemade Christmas Tree Ornament

As I was scouring Pinterest looking for a craft idea for my son and his little lady friend I watch one day a week (they are both 3), I found a cute homemade scrap ribbon Christmas ornament idea from Fireflies and Mudpies.  I love this craft idea for so many reasons, number one, it uses scrap ribbon, which you would normally toss out and waste.  Number two, it's so very rustic looking!

This ornament is so easy to do.  Grab some sticks from the backyard, and your scrap ribbon, and tie them around the stick.  Make sure your stick is dry and strong (our first stick was brittle and broke!).  You'll want to cut the ribbon to different lengths so it looks like a Christmas tree (we trimmed ours up once we got it on the stick).  I did the first one with my son, he had a blast trying to learn how to tie (didn't do so well, but had fun!!!).  We used a little dot of hot glue to keep the ribbon in place.

When my 9 year old daughter got home from school, she wanted to do one (but pink!).  I let her do hers all by herself unlike my son.  They may not be the prettiest ornaments, but they will sure make my tree look stunning!

To see this and many more craft ideas, visit Fireflies and Mudpies!

FYI, this craft idea didn't seem easy enough to do with a couple of toddlers, so I am still on the hunt for Christmas craft ideas......I'm thinking of doing pasta snowflake ornaments!  Stay tuned for that post.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How Have I Already Saved My Family Money?

How have I already saved money for my family?  We negotiated with our cable and internet provider to get the best rate.  I leave this to the husband since he is so good at it!  We also switched our home owners and car insurance.  These three things alone should be looked at yearly and renegotiated to save your family money.  A lot of times companies will raise your rates, with no apparent reason, and a lot of people just accept it, but you don'y have to.  We also refinanced our car into a lower interest rate, which dropped our payments by $45 a month!  When we bought our car, we took the high interest rate because we knew we were upside down in our old car loan (the truck we traded in for a more family friendly vehicle), and plus we were expecting baby #2 any day at that point.

I also trade my services for what I need.  I watch a 3 year old one day a week, and instead of charging to watch her, I ask her mom to bring me extra paper goods, toiletries, etc.  One less thing I have to buy!  I also do the basics to save my family money; coupon, shop at consignment shops, shop the clearance racks, shop end of season sales, etc.

I also take additional steps to save our family money.  I have the heat on the lowest comfortable setting right now (no, we're not freezing, we just wear long sleeve shirts and we're fine!), highest possible setting in the summer, I take advantage of Spring and Fall by not using the furnace or ac until we need to.  I also do not turn on the lights in the house unless it is dark.  The windows help bring in lots of sunlight which is just fine for us.  We also invested in really, really good windows!  Yeah, it was pricey to install all new windows, but we have saved so much on our heating and cooling bills.  We also installed low flow faucets and shower heads to save water, and the cool spiral light bulbs (had three years have never burnt out!), which are well worth the investment.

I spend about 3 hours a day online writing articles and blog posts, doing homework, and......wait for money!  The reward sites I use offer lots of different gift cards (including Amazon and Pay Pal).  I collect them all year and then I a bunch of FREE money to spend on food, household needs, or Christmas shopping!  When I do shop, unless I need to do it in store, I prefer online.  I do this because I am enrolled in Upromise, so I get cash back to help pay off my husband's student loans, and for my kid's college funds!

Every step, no matter how small, that I have taken has saved my family money.  Even with the pay cut my husband took to get his dream job, we have still managed to stay one step ahead.

What is your favorite way to save money?  

Get Rewarded for Searching Bing

It always amazes me the simplicity of these reward sites.  I just found out this past weekend that Bing (yes....Bing, the search engine) has a reward program of it's own!  No surveys, downloads, or games here.  You get points just for the searches you would normally do.  Once you start collecting points, you can redeem them for gift cards to places like Amazon (YAY!), Groupon, IHOP, Burger King, Redbox, you can even redeem them for 500 Swagbucks!  If you are in the giving spirit (which most of us are this time of year), you can turn your points into donations to places like the Boys $ Girls Club of America or Teach for America.  Regardless of how you use your points, it couldn't be easier to earn them.  In fact, Bing is now my homepage so every search I do helps bring in points!

How I'm Going to Save More Money in 2014

My friends and family know that I'm all about finding good deals to help save money.  It still shocks people that we are able to maintain our household on a single income.  Like most years, now is the time I think of my New Year's resolution (which I rarely stick to).  In 2014, I plan to hold myself (and my family) accountable though.  My goal for 2014 is to save MORE money.  Come January 1st, I'm going to put my family's spending in check.  Our first goal is to pay off our family vehicle (a whole 4 years early!).  Secondly, we have our first ever family vacation planned next year.  I am already busy planning that so we spend as little as possible, while having the best experience we can.

Some steps I'm going to take to save us more money in 2014:

  • Track spending
  • Shorten showers
  • Shop BOGO sales (I've got two kids, we always need two of everything!)
  • Spend smarter
  • Pay myself before I spend money (put more money in savings)
  • Clean my house (I'm going to take an "inventory" of what we already have so I don't buy multiples)
  • Waste less
  • Make my garden bigger so it yields more fresh produce

So there you have it, my 2014 New Year's resolution, SAVE MORE MONEY!  I'll post later about how I already saved money up til this point.  I'm teaming up with other bloggers to keep you updated on our resolutions, and to help hold each other accountable.  What has your family done to save money?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Fun in St. Louis!

For children, it's really the most magical time of the year!  I just love all of the activities there are once Christmas time, and the rest of the holiday season roll around.  Here is a list of just a few of the activities around St. Louis that are family friendly:

Santa's Wonderland at Bass Pro Shop in St. Charles.  Free photos with Santa, free games, and free crafts!  Runs from Nov. 9-Dec. 24.

Celebration of Lights in O'Fallon, MO.  Sunday, Tuesday, & Thursday 6-9 pm, Friday & Saturday 6-10 pm.  $9 per family vehicle.  Nov. 29-Dec. 30.

Winter Wonderland at Tilles Park.  $10 per family vehicle.  Open Sunday thru Friday (closed Saturday for carriage rides-fees on page), 5:30 pm-9:30 pm.  Nov. 27-Jan. 1.

Santa's Magical Kingdom at Jellystone (near Six Flags).  $20 per family vehicle.  Friday & Saturday 5:30 pm- 11 pm, Sunday-Thursday 5:30 pm-10:30 pm.  Nov. 15-Jan. 5.  Save $3 off your admission!

Christmas Traditions on Main Street (St. Charles).  Event is free (unless you buy a dozen cookies from Grandma's......guilty!).

KCS Holiday Train at Union Station.  Saturday December 14th 1:30 pm - 7:30 pm.

Breakfast with Santa at the Magic House.  Sunday December 15th, 8 am.  $20 per person, $25 for members.  Reservations required.

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Favorite Hot Cocoa Recipe

Today is a snow day for my daughter.  So naturally, the first thing we think of in the morning is making hot cocoa.  As much as I love the convenience of pre-made packets, they just don't have the rich chocolate taste I want.  So we busted out the Hershey's cocoa and got to making some delicious hot cocoa!

Hot Cocoa

1/2 cup sugar,  
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy coffee creamer
1/3 cup of water
4 cups of milk (we love the taste of vanilla almond milk with ours)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chocolate chips
Pinch of salt
Whipped cream or marshmallows to top!

Mix together dry ingredients.  In a pan, wisk together dry ingredients with your wet ingredients.  Add your chocolate chips.  Simmer on medium/low until the chips are melted, and your cocoa is heated through (about 10 minutes).  Serve with whipped cream, marshmallows, chocolate shavings, or whatever your heart desires!

Stay warm!

Free E-Books - December 6, 2013